Posted at March 12, 2020
I read, I swear. 😳
“Sorcerer to the Crown”, by Zen Cho
I picked this up at Dublin 2019 last summer. The author, Zen Cho, spoke at the panel on Regency fiction, which is an esthetic I hadn’t heard of before, but instantly made sense — think steampunk, but not steampunk, more Jane Austen, except this was a sci-fi con, so add dragons. It was a good panel, and she was a good panelist, and one of the vendors was selling signed copies of her novel. So it goes. (She also won the Hugo Award for “Best Novelette”, although I can’t recall whether this was before I picked it up.)
A short summary: Zacharias Wythe, the Sorceror Royal (and the first African to have that position), is attempting to deal with England’s mysterious scarcity of magical power, while Prunella Gentleman, a woman of uncertain ancestry, wishes to leave a school where gentlewomen are taught to not use their powers and make a better life for herself in London. Add in faerie, familiars, racism, sexism, an incredibly powerful sorceress from the far east, and the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, and stir.
It was entertaining, but frustrating. I enjoyed a lot of the writing and the characters. It deals with subjects that could be dour and serious with lightness and wit. I particularly enjoyed watching Prunella make her way in the world, and dug many of the side characters. But at the same time, it did a poor job explaining how this world works. I never really figured out what the deal was with familiars and how they related to everything, and that turns out to be the most important thing in the plot.
“Boy Erased”, by Garrard Conley
I got this from the library. It wasn’t a happy read.
“Boy Erased” is a memoir about the author’s experience going through ex-gay conversion therapy after his first year of college. He was a devoutly religious man from an evangelical family, and sincerely believed that going through the programme would save him. It didn’t.
There’s a lot in it that’s hard to read. The worst part, for me, was the chapter on finishing high school. It’s written eliptically around the painful truth that he was gay, and unable to admit it. As bad as it gets after he’s outted, at least he’s being honest to himself and moving forward.
It’s a good book, though. It’s structured like a novel, with chapters alternating between his time in the programme and his life before. It builds up themes and doles out information at intervals and builds upon all that in the writing. That all feels condescending to say, but it’s well constructed, and that’s remarkable when you’re writing from life.
I had to take weeks-long breaks while reading it, though.
“How To Be Safe”, by Tom McAllister
Another library book! I picked this one up because I’m a fan of the Book Fight! podcast, and the author is one of the hosts. Also, I remember seeing excerpts on Twitter, and damn…
(Uh, content warning: School shootings.)
In America we send children to school to get shot and to learn algebra and physics and history and biology and literature. Less civilized nations don’t have such an organized system for murdering their children. Mass murders in undeveloped countries occur because they are savages. Mass murders occur in our country because we are self-actualized and recognize the important of occasional virgin sacrifices. Those other countries have to stage civil wars and conscript the children into the army and keep them high on meth and give them AK-47s, and this system is all around less predictable and not nearly as safe for the adults. They need famine and poverty to slowly choke children to death, rather than humanely shooting them at their desks. They need predator drones dispatched by a nation significantly more advanced in child-killing.
It’s about a woman who, after being suspended from her job as a teacher, is blamed by the media for a shooting at her school. It follows her as she attempts to deal with her own sense of culpability, trauma, shame at being traumatized, and so on. There are also some vague weird things going on around town, like the sun no longer rising, a doomsday cult, and a militia.
I have mixed feelings about it. I enjoyed it, especially the writing, and I devoured the book fairly quickly. But I don’t think I totally “got” it, and I found the ending underwhelming. I think I wanted more plot, and it’s not that kind of book. Great writing, tho, and audacious. It’ll probably be the best book I’ll ever read about a school shooting, and certainly (in a bleak, depressing way) the funniest.